DALLAS — Flying across the Atlantic Ocean is one of the busiest and most competitive markets in commercial aviation worldwide, where more than 45 airlines fight to attract customers planning their trips between Europe and North America. In some cases, like the famous London to New York route, you can find up to six different airlines flying the same route on the same day simultaneously.
Until 2016, this market was exclusively dominated by premium flag carriers like American Airlines (AA), Air France (DL), or British Airways (BA), but with the rise of low-cost long-haul travel, these airlines now need to adapt their services to compete with new players like Norse Atlantic (N0) or PLAY (OG), while still offering a premium experience at a higher cost.
Today we will describe the onboard experience that KLM (KL), the national airline of the Netherlands and one of the most important carriers in Europe, can offer to passengers on a standard transatlantic flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta on board one of their newest aircraft; the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
Is KLM, the oldest airline in the world, still maintaining a high-class product on long-haul flights, or has it lowered the quality of its services to stay in business with the heavy competition of long-haul low-cost carriers?
From Amsterdam to Atlanta
We are going to describe the onboard experience of the economy-class product that KLM offers on a standard transatlantic return flight from Amsterdam-Schiphol Airport (AMS) to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL). This is one of KLM’s 13 destinations in the United States and the only one in the state of Georgia.
Sharing a network with Delta Air Lines (DL), the SkyTeam Alliance is completely dominant in transatlantic flights departing from the Netherlands. Because of this, both KLM and Delta serve up to five daily combined flights between the two airlines’ largest hubs.
In general, DL actually offers flights to the Netherlands’ capital from 9 different hubs across the United States: Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Detroit (DTW), Minneapolis (MSP), New York (JFK), Orlando (MCO), Portland (PDX), Salt Lake City (SLC) and Seattle (SEA).
Getting specific about my flight, KL621 is scheduled for departure from Schiphol every day at 16:50, arriving on the same day in Atlanta at 21:15, local time. The return flight takes off from Atlanta at 23:25, landing in Schiphol exactly 9 hours later at 12:25 the next day.
In winter, all these flights are operated typically by the modern Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, the medium variant of the type. Although during the summer season, the most common aircraft to fly this route is the larger Boeing 777-300ER.
As always, the passenger experience relies heavily on the expectations built up by the customer and how those expectations are met.
Knowing that KLM is one of the most important European airlines and that it truly defines itself as a “full-service carrier”, on this long-haul transatlantic flight we can expect to see:
- Free seat selection only during check-in.
- A decent seat pitch and legroom.
- Adjustable headrests.
- A complimentary pillow and blanket.
- Universal power outlets and USB ports.
- An IFE with a considerable entertainment selection.
- One hot and one cold meal service, with complimentary drinks during all the flight.
- Paid Wi-Fi service, with a limited free messaging fare.
Our flight departed today out of Schiphol’s non-Schengen F terminal. Flight KL621 was assigned gate F4 and there was waiting for our aircraft: PH-BHO, a Boeing 787-9 delivered to KLM on March 29th, 2018, which is the 12th of thirteen total units the airline currently owns. It flies with two General Electric GEnx engines and is configured in a three-class cabin of 275 total seats.
The Boeing 787 is one of KLM’s most common long-haul aircraft, and it is typically deployed on flights across the Atlantic Ocean to far away and lower-demand destinations such as Toronto (YYZ), Cartagena (CTG) or San Jose (JSO). In our case, this was a low-season flight, although the flight was operated with a pretty high load factor.
Two hours before our scheduled departure time passengers were informed that the flight was delayed by 25 minutes. This may have been related to the ongoing construction works of Amsterdam’s Runway 36C, which remains fully closed at this time and forces controllers to reschedule traffic to avoid peak hours. However, this was not an issue because the pilots quickly recovered from the delay during the flight and we arrived on time.
During the taxi procedure, all IFE screens displayed the KLM onboard safety video, which was made with a very interesting method combining Dutch pottery painting art. Along with the video, for any specific explanation affecting only the Boeing 787 aircraft like the exit locations, the crew showed it manually during the demonstration.
KLM’s Economy Class Seat
On the Boeing 787-9, KLM offers a standard 3-3-3 economy class configuration, which is the most common among the many Airlines that operate this airplane on long-haul flights. The seat was wide and thick, which granted extra comfort, highly appreciated on this nine-hour flight.
Of course, the seat included adjustable headrests and a coat hook, which was quite inconveniently located on the tray table lock. On the other hand, universal power outlets were located under the seat, featuring also an extra USB port under the entertainment system.
Speaking about the IFE, the selection of films and TV series was amazingly Good. KLM offers more than 200 movies to choose from, and the genre variety is very good. Definitely, you won’t get bored on this flight. Apart from movies and series, KLM also offers a wide range of music and games to choose from.
The Entertainment System was very intuitive and had a very quick response. All in all, it was very easy to use and quick to comprehend. However, one of the crucial features I missed on this flight was the onboard cameras. On the Boeing 787-9, one of the most modern jets of the fleet, onboard cameras could have added up and could have made flying even more enjoyable from the seat.
Wi-Fi on board was available for all passengers during the flight at different passes. All passengers could enjoy free internet connection just for messaging on apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger, while further speed was reserved for different fares either for standard surfing or streaming for just one hour or during the entire flight.
Connecting to the WiFi, however, was a true challenge. The interface many times showed errors while trying to purchase the service, and also furthermore after purchasing it.
A few minutes after takeoff, the cabin crew started the process of the first meal service, which started with the handing out of a bottle of water to every passenger, along with a hygiene kit with tissues and hand gel to clean the seat and tray table if needed. Moments later, lunch was served.
The lunch was the first and only complete hot meal of the flight. It consisted of stewed chicken with mashed potatoes and broccoli, accompanied by a large and cold pasta salad with lettuce, tomatoes, and mozzarella. On the side, we were given a hot piece of bread and semi-matured cheese. All passengers could choose with the meal any type of juice, fresh beverage, or wine to drink.
As a first impression, the meal was a bit disappointing in terms of size, especially because the cold pasta salad, which is supposed to be a compliment, was actually larger than the main hot chicken dish. Despite this, the taste was very good and the food felt fresh. Additionally, the cutlery was made of wood, which is a very nice gesture coming from KLM to take care of the environment.
Dessert was served separately afterward. The crew offered passengers a piece of chocolate pastry along with an option for coffee or tea. The cake was delicious, one of the best I had on a flight, to be sincere. Finally, not more than two hours before arriving, a second hot meal was served. It was a much smaller pre-landing snack in the form of a vegetarian pesto calzone. It was also accompanied by a drink of choice.
All in all, the meals were almost average-sized and tasted quite well. In these terms, KLM has met my expectations for this flight but I cannot certainly say it has exceeded them.
Arrival at Our Destination
After a total flight time of 8 hours and 35 minutes, our Boeing 787 Dreamliner arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at 21:00 local time. We parked at gate F1 of concourse F, which is the only one of the seven terminals that are specialized in international and intercontinental flights.
After deboarding the aircraft, passengers who terminated their journey in this city could pick up their bags directly and get through customs before entering the United States.
On the other hand, passengers who needed to take a connecting flight with Delta Air Lines (DL) or any other carrier and had a checked bag, needed to pick it up and recheck it even if they were having a complete transfer. For safety reasons in the US, agents have constant control over the passengers’ baggage by performing this practice during any layover.
In Europe, this practice isn’t common at all unless the arriving and departing flights from the airport are booked separately. This, of course, takes up its time, and sometimes it could mean that passengers which are not familiar with the methodology can either forget to recheck their bag or not have enough time to do it and miss their connecting flight.
We highly recommend that, when flying through the United States, passengers should book a connection long enough to have sufficient time margin to get through customs and recheck their bag without any rush.
Has KLM modified its economy-class product on transatlantic flights following the rise of long-haul low-cost carriers? I can certainly say it has not. The overall experience has remained the same quality over the years, which has been amazingly enhanced as always by the very characteristic hospitality of the cabin crew. Even after nine hours of flight, the attendants were still smiling and making jokes around with the passengers.
What I would like to point out, however, is the gradual reduction of inflight services in premium airlines every decade. No one can compare the seats, meals, and flight quality of the 1990s on the dutch airline with today. Although this evolution is nothing but natural.
In the end, flying is getting more and more popular, and if passengers want cheaper fares every year for long-haul non-stop flights which were unthinkable sixty years ago, costs need to be reduced in some way. Still, the service on this KLM flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta was good, and I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them again across the Atlantic Ocean.
Featured image: Apart from the Boeing 787-9, KLM also operates eight units of its longer brother, the 787-10. Photo: Adrian Nowakowski/Airways